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Trout, Sir Herbert Leon (1906–1978)

by Kay Cohen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Sir Herbert Leon Trout (1906-1978), solicitor, businessman and benefactor, was born on 12 February 1906 at Red Hill, Brisbane, seventh child of Queensland-born parents Walter John Trout, butcher, and his wife Margaret Alice, née Storie. Leon attended Kelvin Grove State School and won a scholarship to Brisbane Grammar School. An average student, he excelled at gymnastics and was senior champion in 1922. Boxing and golf were his other sporting interests. He was articled to C. B. Fox and on 2 May 1928 admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Queensland. After difficult years as a sole legal practitioner he entered into partnership in 1932 with an established solicitor, M. M. Edwards. He gained accountancy qualifications, becoming an associate (1932) and fellow (1948) of the Federal Institute of Accountants.

On 16 October 1936 at St John's Cathedral, Brisbane, Trout married with Anglican rites 20-year-old Peggy Elaine Hyland; they were childless. Enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force on 4 May 1942, he was commissioned next month in the Administrative and Special Duties Branch. He was posted in October 1942 as adjutant of No.75 Squadron at Milne Bay, Papua, then in March 1943 of No.77 Squadron in Darwin. Flying Officer Trout's R.A.A.F. appointment was terminated at his request on 4 January 1944.

Back in Brisbane, Trout practised law on his own until he formed a partnership with P. C. Bernays in 1950. The practice was expanded in 1959 to include Arthur Tingle and subsequently developed into one of Brisbane's leading law firms. Although not politically ambitious, Trout was president (1953-57) of the Liberal Party of Australia, Queensland division. Dedicated to party loyalty and unity, he was discerning about candidate pre-selection and effective as a fund-raiser, but his strength lay in his determination to 'get things done'. His notable bluntness and impatience with time-wasters was offset by an engaging charm and compassion for disadvantaged people. He attracted like-minded individuals to the party and his significant contribution to the win by the coalition of the Country and Liberal parties at the State election in 1957 was widely acknowledged.

After three years (1953-56) as president of the Brisbane Chamber of Commerce, Trout realized a long-held ambition when he became the second Queenslander to serve as president (1957-59) of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia. An outspoken advocate of private enterprise and individual endeavour, he championed industrial expansion, the formation of a development-oriented northern Australian commission, and the abolition of probate and succession duties. He was chairman of Barnes Engineering Pty Ltd, Queensland Battery Smelting Works Pty Ltd and Queensland Metal Co. Pty Ltd, and a director of Chevron Queensland Ltd (1957-77) and the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society.

With his wife Trout became well known as an art collector and patron; he had made his first purchase, an Impressionist print, while still at school. Founding president (1951-54) of the Queensland National Gallery Society, he donated the first of many works to the Queensland National Art Gallery in 1953. The Trouts' home, Everton House, described in 1953 as a 'spectacular country homestead', was the centrepiece of his successful suburban estate development at Everton Park. It provided a lively social venue for arts enthusiasts and housed the couple's extensive collection, including portraits painted in 1959 of Trout by (Sir) William Dobell and of his wife by (Sir) William Dargie. Trout was knighted in 1959.

Appointed a trustee of the Q.A.G. that year, Sir Leon presided (1965-78) over the board. In the 1960s the gallery shared a sub-standard building with the Queensland Museum. Trout initiated and forcefully advocated the plan to include an art gallery in the proposed Queensland cultural centre in South Brisbane. He was credited with achieving economic stability and a vision for the gallery, but his amateur enthusiasm and business orientation often did not impress arts professionals. Board meetings could become volatile, especially when Sir Leon eschewed diplomacy in favour of directness.

During their frequent overseas travels the Trouts bought works for their collection. They visited numerous galleries and returned home with knowledge of the latest international trends. At the Q.A.G. clashes occurred when Sir Leon tried to introduce what other trustees considered inappropriate ideas for the gallery's exhibitions and its overall administration. When president (1956-57) of the Brisbane Club, he introduced an art collection programme and annoyed some members by replacing the portraits of former presidents with expensive traditional paintings. He resigned from the artworks committee after it installed a modernist painting, Sam Fullbrook's 'The Jockey', which was not to his taste.

Trout was president of the Queensland Society of Blind Citizens (1938-47), the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland (1945-47), the Australian Automobile Association (1946-47) and the Australia Britain Society. He was a board-member of the Salvation Army and a patron of gymnastics. Survived by his wife, he died on 6 March 1978 in Brisbane and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. His estate was sworn for probate at $2,293,274. The new art gallery building was opened in 1982, largely due to 'Sir Leon's vision, tenacity and persistence', according to the president of trustees, Peter Botsman.

Select Bibliography

  • M. I. Thomis, The Brisbane Club (Brisb, 1980)
  • Queensland Art Gallery, Gifts from the Collection of Sir Leon and Lady Trout (Brisb, 1984)
  • The Trout Collection in Profile (Brisb, 1993)
  • P. L. Ryan, Friends for Forty Years (Brisb, 1993)
  • S. Keays, Firm Foundations (Brisb, 2000)
  • North Australian Monthly, Dec 1954
  • Queensland Law Society Journal, Apr 1978
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 14 Nov 1953, 8 Aug 1975, 8 Mar 1978
  • private information.

Citation details

Kay Cohen, 'Trout, Sir Herbert Leon (1906–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/trout-sir-herbert-leon-11880/text21271, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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